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Leadership Lessons From Umpire Jim Joyce

June 3, 2010

Jim Joyce has been an umpire in MLB since 1987. He’s called games in the minors, both major leagues, the playoffs and even the World Series. He is an experienced professional who has been effectively making snap judgment calls for over 20 years.

The role of an umpire is to be neutral and make a judgments on events as they occur in the game, without any preconceived notions. The last thing we want from an umpire is to be part of the action or anticipating the action. However, it’s hard for an anyone who’s part of history-making events to be neutral. Just take a look at the last pitch in Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Look a little high and outside? How about watching Eric Gregg’s strike-zone expand as Livan Hernandez notched 15 strikeouts in a pivotal Game 5 in the 1997 NL Championship series?

Joyce wasn’t trying to be part of the game. He was calling the 27th out of a perfect game the same way he’d call the 2nd out in a spring training game. He was simply calling the next play that came his way. What came before, what comes after? Irrelevant. No prejudgments. I’m sure a lot of umpires would have had a heightened sense of anticipation – anything close is an out.

Managers do the same thing all the time –  with employees, co-workers, customers. Everyone can have a reputation, good or bad. You can’t judge people on reputation. You have to look at results. Prejudgment is a great drain on productivity. Jim Joyce may have gotten the call  wrong, but he got it wrong for the right reason. Instead of harassing Mr. Joyce, we should celebrate his approach to his job.

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